Quite often I am asked about barefoot running and flat feet.  I have argued against the ills of flat feet in runners for years.  I have battled pair after pair of orthotics in my clients’ shoes.  Some of those battles I have won, and those runners are better for it, but some of them I have lost, and those poor soles are still struggling to run without issues.  The truth is that this issue is far beyond the scope of barefoot running, and in fact expands across the entirety of the running community.  That’s right; this problem applies to all runners both shod and bare alike.  So what’s the answer?  Oh, I’ll tell you because I’m not afraid of the truth.  Are you?

The answer is that “flat feet” is generally not a life-ending diagnosis.  By life I mean running life, but for some of us running is life, and the current mentality on flat feet is that having them means that you cannot be a runner, at least not without all sorts of special shoes, inserts, exercises, and in some cases, surgeries.  How we got to this point I do not know, but here are the first two resources a Google Search pulled up when all I typed in was “flat feet”.

Google Health:

Treatment

Flexible flat feet that are painless do not require treatment. If you have pain due to flexible flat feet, an orthotic (arch-supporting insert in the shoe) can bring relief. With the increased interest in running, many shoe stores carry shoes for normal feet and pronated feet. The shoes designed for pronated feet make long distance running easier and less tiring because they correct for the abnormality.

Rigid or painful flat feet require evaluation by a health care provider. The treatment depends on the cause of the flat feet. For tarsal coalition, treatment starts with rest and possibly a cast. If this fails to improve the pain, surgery may be necessary.

For problems with the posterior tibial tendon, treatment may start with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and shoe inserts or ankle braces.

In more advanced cases, surgery may be needed to clean or repair the tendon, or fuse some of the joints of the foot into a corrected position.

Flat feet in older adults can be treated with pain relievers, orthotics, and sometimes surgery.

Wikipedia:

Treatment for Children

Going barefoot, particularly over terrain such as a beach where muscles are given a good workout, is good for all but the most extremely flatfooted, or those with certain related conditions such as plantar fasciitis. One medical study in India with a large sample size of children who had grown up wearing shoes and others going barefoot, found that the longitudinal arches of the barefooters were generally strongest and highest as a group, and that flat feet were less common in children who had grown up wearing sandals or slippers than among those who had worn closed-toe shoes. Flat feet can be treated by arch supports. Flat feet can also be inherited genetically.

Treatment for Adults

Treatment of flat feet may also be appropriate if there is associated foot or lower leg pain, or if the condition affects the knees or the lower back. Treatment may include using Orthotics such as an arch support, foot gymnastics or other exercises as recommended by a podiatrist or other physician. In cases of severe flat feet, orthoses should be used through a gradual process to lessen discomfort. Over several weeks, slightly more material is added to the orthosis to raise the arch. These small changes allow the foot structure to adjust gradually, as well as giving the patient time to acclimatize to the sensation of wearing orthoses. Once prescribed, orthoses are generally worn for the rest of the patient’s life. In some cases, surgery can provide lasting relief, and even create an arch where none existed before; it should be considered a last resort, as it is usually very time consuming and costly.

I could not believe what I was reading as I read the Google Health article on this subject.  Are you kidding me?  There is not a single word in there about being able to do anything about the issue.  Wikipedia at least gave some hope to the reader and offered some advice.  I feel Wikipedia’s advice for children with flat feet was spot on and great.  However, they took a completely different approach for adults.  Why is that?  Why is it that once we have grown up, our feet are no longer adaptable, and we can no longer do anything without supports or special shoes?  A lot of people in the barefoot community use the literal structural engineering of an arch to make the case that orthotics and support are not the right answer.  An arch in construction is actually made weaker by underneath supports so the parallel is that arch support in your shoes is a bad thing.

I’ll take it in a different direction and point out that the arches of your feet consist of a network of muscle and connective tissues.  In most cases these muscles can be strengthened like any other muscle in your body.  When someone has shoulder, back, leg, or any other kind of pain, they are told to do physical therapy or exercise because strengthening the muscles will help, but when the feet are weak they are told to forget about it.  The answer is always to give up activities like running and do something else that doesn’t require the feet to work, something like the bike or elliptical machine.  The lucky ones are told to use really expensive custom orthotics in their shoes to support the arch.  They are then told that they will need them forever, and as their feet get worse they will need to get more of these wonder braces that are more built up.

This is insane.  The world is a big place full of people who have been told their feet are worthless and do not work, to just give up and realize that feet are no good in general without support.  I know I am a barefoot/minimal advocate, but this has nothing to do with that.  For my clients who still wear conventional shoes, the goal is always to get them strengthened from the feet up so they can get out of orthotics and built up shoes.  The goal is always a thin and neutral shoe that they can actually use their feet in.  I have them do foot strengthening exercises and drills, and their flat feet improve.  They regain the arch they once lost because they are rebuilding the musculature of their feet, the very same muscles that the majority of the medical world seems to believe are useless and cannot be saved.  The truth is that the medical world is wrong.  Yes, there are cases where the feet are beyond easy repair and will not respond to strengthening exercises, but those are the rare few.  The average flat footed person can rebuild those precious arches and watch a lot of their body’s aches and pains go away while they build strength, agility, and balance.

So there it is in no uncertain terms.  Flat feet do not have to kill the runner.  They do not have to be supported every day for the rest of your life.  You can rebuild them, and just like with most other muscular issues in the body, you can watch the problem go away with the proper exercise and attention to the area.  If you constantly support a muscle with a brace, it will atrophy, and the average shoe is a brace that does the foot’s work for it.  Get your feet out of those shoes, and you see those muscles come back to life.  I have written out some of my favorite exercises for the feet in my barefoot running transition articles, and doing those exercises can greatly help you in getting rid of those flat feet.  This does not mean you have to become a barefoot runner.  You can keep the shoes, but you have to change the way you look at shoes.  Look at them as protection and not support.  The first thing you tell a salesperson is that you want a neutral shoe with minimal heel to toe drop, and do not let them tell you that you “need” something else.  Unless that person has walked a mile with your feet they have no idea what you need.  Neutral, thin, and flat are the key words when describing the type of you shoe you are looking for that will not overly support your feet.  The average runner will find great success by switching to something like a racing flat, for example.

So for the record my answer is “Yes, you can run and have flat feet”.  Flat feet can and will cause you problems as a runner either shod or bare, so it’s best to work on strengthening the feet through foot exercises that forcefully activate the musculature of the arch.  Do that and you won’t have to worry about having flat feet because they will go away.

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60 responses »

  1. Thank you Jimmy for this awesome post! Shout ot from the rooftops! I’m so sick of hearing the “flat feet” excuse, and the ridiculous “medical” advice on the matter!!!

  2. Belinda says:

    So, where does one find information about exercises to help with this problem?

    • There are actually a lot of articles online about strengthening feet. I even have some of my favorites listed in my training posts on going barefoot but I’ll list them here for you.

      Squats, Jump Rope, Skipping, Lunges, Stairs, and Foot Crunches.

      Doing all of those barefoot or in a very minimal shoe will help strengthen and rebuild the arches of the feet.

      • Nico says:

        Thanks for all this I know you probably wont respond to me but i do jump ropes and it is supposed to burn a little bit right? when i do jump ropes I feel the burn in my feet.

      • It depends on the burn. I draw that line at painful when it comes to things like “feeling the burn”. There’s a big difference in the feeling you get when you a muscle is really working hard and when something is in actual pain so if it is pain then I would say no it’s not normal. If it’s just a straining feeling that you would compare to doing bicep curls then yes that is supposed to happen and will eventually go away.

  3. Belinda says:

    Ok. Thanks! I’ve just taken up walking/running four weeks ago, and my foot pain is unbearable to make it through a mile of mostly walking, so I’m trying to figure out what’s best.

  4. Nikki says:

    I’m interested in going barefoot,I’ve done int on the treadmill and I’ve been able to run faster for longer periods of time then i ever could in shoes!(: Anyhoo…on a differnt note, I just read read that going barefoot can help with vericose veins in the legs,and i have them bad, bulging out and ripples!! i call them ‘my old lady legs’ it looks ugly!)): I have iinherited them from my dad’s side of the family,they have ALL had spider and vericose veins, I’m only 25 and they havn’t caused me any pain (atleast yet) I am wondering will barefooting long enough eventually help get RID of these ugly things???? or atleast SOME of them?? i would LOVE to have nice smooth unrippled egs like most people! ): people comment on it..and i feel like thy think i have some kinda desease….:\

    • Sadly Nikki I have no information that will be of use to you. I have read and heard nothing that would lead me to believe running bare would help get rid of the vericose veins in your legs. I will do my best to try and research this topic as I am now curious but I have nothing on the subject at this time. I do hope it helps though as I am sure that would be a good thing to happen for you.

  5. MJ Hodges says:

    I am a massage therapist and have regularly recommended orthotics ffor my clients because I have found that when properly fit they have helped my knees, hips, back, & neck not to hurt or feel jammed.

    Would the exercises you recommend for your running compadres be of assistance for non runners as well?

    • Yes. Strengthening the foot is as important as strengthening any other muscle group in your body. All people should spend some time working on their feet. You may not have to hit them week in and week out but giving them some focus will go a long way to alleviate a lot of chronic pains throughout the body. I have found that all of my clients end up ditching all forms of support for their feet after they start strengthening. The orthotics, supportive shoes, and even arch supportive socks get tossed out the door because a strong foot doesn’t need that support.

  6. Clinton says:

    How do I become one of your clients? I’m 23 and have podiatrists fitting me in orthotics because I have flat feet and strained a tendon. i want to get stronger feet and be as healthy as i can not just soften the pain! Where are you located?

    • Clinton for you and anyone else curious I am based in the Dallas/Ft Worth TX area but do a lot of long distance work with people so I can be just about anywhere I’m needed with all the comforts of modern technology.

  7. John says:

    There is no “they” for Wikipedia, it’s “us.” If you think something is missing in the article, enhance it yourself. That’s the point. Cite sources, too, and your enhancements are likely to stay around.

  8. zaK says:

    this gives me so much hope. i have the most insanely flat feet anyone has ever seen. “fred flintstone feet” or “hobbit feet” i’ve never been a runner nor athletic, yet two months ago started barefoot running. i love it and i believe i will be able to improve my life.

  9. KiKi says:

    OK, so I’m really confused. I became a homemaker 10 years ago and have spent a very large portion of that time being barefoot or in flat slippers (and on my feet most of the day). The problem: my flat feet are now causing me so much pain in my feet, achilles, and knees that it’s almost unbearable. I am 30 years old, not overweight, and exercise regularly (which is the only time that I actually am wearing shoes, and those are very minimalist shoes, not supportive, similar to Nike Free – but a thinner sole). So just in the past year I’ve been doing research and finding sites like the ones you showed above that tell me to use special inserts, buy more supportive shoes, etc. Do you have any suggestions as to why my feet would get worse going barefoot, and what options would you give a patient under those circumstances?

    • Good questions KiKi and I think I can offer some help for your situation. Far too often people link a flat foot to being a bad thing. Having a low or flat arch doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your foot. I compare this to people with large legs versus people with skinny legs, big boned and small framed, and many other differences. The point is that people are different and that’s ok. Some people will have high arches and some people won’t but that doesn’t mean there’s a problem. If you have flatter feet but they don’t cause you any problems then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

      Your situation is different because you are having pains which means (and I’m just giving an opinion) that your arches have probably fallen a bit and gotten weak. Just being barefoot or in slippers isn’t necessarily enough to keep you from having issues, especially if you aren’t really engaging your feet while you are barefoot. By that I mean if you are mostly standing around or just walking around your house then you might not be working the feet all that much and they can get weaker. My advice in your situation would be to engage your feet in some activity that forces the muscles of the foot to be used in an uncommon way. This could be as easy as doing some barefoot calf raises at different times during the day. You could also do some foot specific exercises like picking up a towel with your toes and curling your toes into carpet for resistance. Try those things and you should see your pains go away. I would also recommend making sure you do a good job of stretching out your calves and feet.

      • KiKi says:

        Thanks so much for replying so soon. I will be giving your suggestions a try. Being an active person, I like the idea of strengthening a weak muscle, over just having to continually brace and give it more and more support over the years. So I will spend some time focusing on feet/calf strength building before relegating myself to orthotics and motion control shoes for life.

        I just thought of another question. What type of shoes would you suggest for when I am exercising? As I said this is the time when I actually do don shoes. Does it not matter, since it’s such a short time in ratio to the rest of my day? I work out 5-6 days/wk doing activities such as weight lifting (heavy), kickboxing, elliptical, and some step aerobics/plyometric activities on occasion. For the weights, I can’t imagine not wearing shoes, for protection purposes alone, lol. But as for the other activities, I’d begun increasing the amount of support in my shoes (like Asics Gel) to help absorb some of the impact (thinking it would help the joint issues I was starting to have). Is this ok to do, or am I contributing to muscle atrophy in my feet by doing this?

        TIA,
        KiKi

      • The more stability you put in the shoes the more you compromise movement which means you can be adding to the weakening of your feet.  It’s not much but your time for exercising could be a great benefit in developing your feet.  I’m a proponent of barefoot exercising but if you really want to wear shoes I recommend something light and very flexible.  Having little to no support in your shoes will force your body to find other ways of stabilizing your joints which will help you a lot in your overall abilities.  As for choices there are a lot and you don’t have to go all the way to something like Five Fingers if you don’t want to.  You can get a very thin shoe by dropping down to racing flats like the Saucony A4 or something similar.  I would say to just look around and see what you like but look for something that doesn’t have a big heel to toe drop or arch support in it.

  10. Jim says:

    Hi, I suffer from incredibly flat feet that I got from my mom which have caused pain when I run my entire life. Before I got orthotics I would have pain in my ankles, knees, and heels of my feet, but now I get pain in my shins whenever I wear my new orthotics. After playing in 3 soccor games, I had shin splints in both of my legs and a stress fracture in my left shin. I am trying to find anything that will make it possible for me to run, or just run without pain. I’m 18 right now, and the prospect of going my entire life without being able to run, jump, etc is not too appealing. Would there be any way that I could increase the arches in my feet, or just reduce the pain caused my flat feet? Anything would help right now, I’ve been trying to find just some way to run without pain

    • I’ve said it many times and I’ll keep saying it. Flat feet do not have to be a bad thing. Not all bodies are the same and the same goes for feet. A foot can be strong and capable without having a “high” arch. You need to strengthen your feet and get rid of the orthotics, especially if you’re wearing them in your cleats. I always have beginners do three simple exercises. Calf raises, carpet scrunches, and towel pick ups. All done barefoot they will help build the muscles in the feet. Calf raises are simple and basic, carpet scrunches are simply curling your toes into carpet trying to squeeze through your arch, and towel pickups are done standing on one leg, reaching out with the other, and pickup up and towel with your toes. I would also say you need to evaluate your form based on all the issues you’ve listed. It sounds like you’re a heavy runner and probably landing on your heels. Try to land softly and on the balls of your feet so your bones and joints aren’t taking so much of a pounding.

  11. Jim says:

    The sad part is I don’t run very much. I try to avoid participating in sports with a lot of running because I know it will cause me pain in my legs. I my shin splints and stress fracture after 3 intramural soccer games. I’ve started doing those excercises and they seem to be helping, but it’s only been a few days. Are there any other excercises that I could do to help strengthen the muscles in my feet?

    • Start with the ones that I talked about earlier and that should really be all you need. Once you use those exercises to get the feet strong it will be easier to maintain that strength and you won’t need to do more exercises. There are of course other things you can do but at this point my advice is stick to the basics.

  12. Nicole Mills says:

    Hello- I just found your site and I have a question. I just started running in minimalist shoes about 3 weeks ago and I love them. I have suffered from two very long bouts of plantar facitis in the past and I want to avoid getting it again. I THINK that the minimalist shoes and the strike in the middle vs the heel will help to strengthen my feet and avoid another relapse, but I would love to know your thoughts on the use of minimalist shoes for someone with plantar facitis (I know I am spelling that wrong- sorry).

    • Hi Nicole. I think the use a minimal shoe can be very helpful in deal with Plantar Fasciitis. You need to take it slow and allow your feet to gradual build up strength as if they have been seriously injured…because they have. PF is a serious issue that can cause even bigger issues so one much take it slow when trying to come back from it. Using a good flexible minimal shoe can allow the foot to flex more which will in turn strengthen the muscles of the foot. Having that foot strength is the key.

  13. Alice Wathen says:

    I just read this post today because I’m trying to figure out what to do about a painful tearing feeling I get from the tendon that runs from my heel to my big toe. I’m medium flat footed and I’m running now in vibram five fingers. It’s going great so far, everything except that when i least expect it I get this incredible ripping feeling in this tendon. I massage it all the time hoping it just needs to stretch but it just keeps happening. Sometimes I am miles away from my house and I need to walk with my toes curled up to keep it from hurting. Anyway….is this because I have flat-ish feet and is there something can I do about it?.

    • I would say it’s not directly related to your feet being somewhat flat. A flat foot is not a bad thing as long as it’s not weak which is where I think your issue may be. Not all feet will have big tall arches the same way not everyone has big biceps. We are all built differently so you have to make your body and it’s shape be the best it can be and you should be fine. My advice would be to cut your runs shorter and focus on building strength and endurance to see if this is all you’re missing. You can also do some simple exercises like curling your toes into carpet, barefoot calf raises, and picking things up with your toes while standing on the opposite foot to build foot strength. Doing exercises like that a few times a week can do a lot to make the foot, ankle, and lower leg stronger. I don’t like that you call it a tearing feeling because that is never a good word associated with soft tissue in any part of the body. Cut your distance back and try the strengthening exercises and hopefully that gets rid of the issue for you. If not you should see a doctor about it but I am always available through my contact form on here as well. Good luck

      • Alice Wathen says:

        thanks. you are completely right. i’ve been cutting back my distances and have spent a lot of time strengthening my feet. i have noticed a change already. i’ll keep this up as part of my regular maintenance since it’s quite a scary feeling and i really want to get past this.
        thanks again.

  14. tgrace says:

    Hi, I have flat feet and I’ve been very curious about whether the minimalist/barefoot shoe has been all hype or something worth trying.It seems to make sense and I’m excited to try a new shoe. I called my local roadrunner store to see which shoes they could recommend so I can do a little research before I head in (I have three kids). Not a huge help over the phone. The gal over the phone told me Newton shoes teach you how to run on your toes and the minimalist/barefoot shoes are different and have thinner soles. I’m confused? Anyway which particular shoes would you recommend trying?

    • I would start by saying that flat feet do not always have to be a problem. If they are strong and functional then they can be flat without any issues coming from that. All feet are not created equally. As for shoes that is a very long an in depth question to answer but basically it comes down to why you are wanting to try minimalism and at degree you want to go there. A short step down is to just get something like a racing flat that is lighter and more flexible than what you are used to. The larger step down is to go for a minimal shoe that has little to no padding under foot but that comes with a longer transition period. Once you have those things decided then you can do the research to decide what you want and what will work best for you.

  15. y s says:

    Hi I’m 23 and have had flat feet since a really long time . I have always been a very physically active person except the last couple of years. The pain in my feet started way back when i was 12 or 13 while playing tennis . I underwent some treatment for a couple of months and was prescribed to wear inner soles . The problem did not really go away with that treatment until i got some acupressure treatment done which was extremely helpful and I did not have a problem for a couple of years after that . Since the past two years the pain has come back again in a very severe form . Whenever I play a sport or run , the area between my big toe and arch swells up a lot a causes a lot of pain . I have recently started running again and I am confused if I need inner soles or go the barefoot way . I am going to buy a new shoe and was contemplating between motion control or minimalist running shoes. I know they are both very different but I need relief and really want to know what would be a better way to solve my problem .
    Thanks in advance
    ys

    • That’s a really tough call. I don’t think that the shoe is the answer in your case. I think you need to focus on strengthening your feet and developing more flexibility in your foot. Sure a minimal shoe can help with that and I recommend them but you have to be careful not to let the shoe give you too much confidence and over do it as it sounds like you have really weak feet. A motion control shoe is designed for controlling the ankle more than anything else so it’s not going to solve your foot problems, the same way the insoles didn’t help before.

      You said acupressure helped the first time so I’d recommend having some work like that done again and adopt a foot strengthening program. I’ve outlined a couple of routines in my posts about Top of Foot Pain that you would really benefit from. If you start to rebuild the strength in the muscular tissue of your arch you would probably see your issues go away.

      As for a shoe recommendation I would say to get something flexible so that your foot has the opportunity to bend and flex as you move which will help strengthen it. You will also want something with some room in the toe box so your toes can spread out. You don’t have to go all the way to super minimal or anything unless you want to but I caution you to take it slow. I think a good transition shoe might do you some good. Something like the Altra Instinct, or maybe even the new Altra Samson, would be great or you could go for something along the lines of the Inov-8 233 or 155.

      I hope that helps and good luck with getting rid of your pain.

  16. y s says:

    HI
    Thanks for the advice.Unfortunately I do not live in the US and do not have access to the Altra’s and the Inov’s . Could I find similar shoes by Nike , Adidas , Puma , Reebok?
    Thanks

    • That is a good question. I think if you don’t have a lot available to you then your best bet is to just go and try some things on if you can. You’re looking for flexible, light, and plenty of room in the toe box. Nike has the free but it’s become too much of a built up shoe these days. Puma has a shoe called the FAAS which isn’t too bad but it has more heel to toe drop than I prefer. Reebok has a shoe called Real Flex that is pretty good but has some heel to toe drop and the sole is kind of narrow. Adidas…sadly they don’t really have anything at the moment that I recommend. You could also look at racing flats or cross country racing shoes from those companies as those would fit the light and flexible mold. I gave you what I feel are the negatives for all of those models but that doesn’t make them bad shoes. It just says that they have some things I personally like to avoid in my shoes. Hopefully you’ll find a way to try on some shoes and get a decent option for yourself.

  17. y s says:

    Hi Again ,
    I am still sort of confused . What are your thoughts on this?
    Adidas Men SNOVA GLIDE 4M

    • Unfortunately I have zero experience with that shoe. I looked it up and it looks to be a pretty standard neutral cushioned running shoe. Other than that there is really nothing I know about it. Sorry I can’t help on that one. I still say your best bet is to try and find something close to flat, flexible, and has good room in the toe box for the best results.

  18. Matt says:

    Hello, Im a 22 year old male with flat feet wanting to go into the army. I started training last summer and was overcome by pain all along the bottoms of my feet. That’s when I found out that I have flat feet. I didn’t let that stop me and I kept training. I know the army wont take people that have symptomatic flat feet so I’ve been trying to figure out ways to fix it. I went to a doctor and he told me that an over the counter arch support should fix my problem and/or orthotics. Unfortunetly I’ve been trying all kinds of different insoles with no success. My feet don’t start to ache until I put shoes on (any type of shoe). I don’t even have to be standing. After about an hour in shoes my feet will ache all along the bottom. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I’ve wanted to go into the military since I was very little. Thanks

    • Your problem is common and the solution is actually really simple. A lot of times flat feet are caused by tight calves, even if you don’t think you have tight calves. This combined with weak feet cause the arches to flatten. Basically the calves pull your heel bone back and up which forces the weak plantar muscles to give in and stretch out. I would tell you to do three things. Stretch your calves and stretch them good. Get into a calf stretch and hold for a minute or two (if you can). Also strengthen your feet. I like to do either toe curls into carpet or a standing exercise where you stand on carpet (or a towel) and curl your toes back towards your heels trying to raise the arch off the ground. The third thing you do is roll your foot on a tennis ball to massage and work out the tension issues in your arch. Orthotics and things like that place your feet in a proper position but they don’t do anything for fixing the problem or rebuilding the strength in your feet. They are like slings for the feet. A sling doesn’t rebuild your shoulder or arm but it serves a purpose in helping them heal. Inserts can help an issue heal but they won’t ever make it truly better. Try those three things and I would think you’ll notice a difference in your feet within a matter of weeks.

      • Matt says:

        Thank you very much. I’ll begin what you recommended today. What is your opinion on posture control insoles?

      • I have similar opinions about those. Depending on the postural issue they may serve a temporary purpose but typically a postural insole is going put your body outside of it’s natural position so unless you have something structurally out of whack they won’t put into a correct posture. If your posture is off then there are a litany of exercises you can do to correct it. Somethings cannot be corrected with exercises, stretching, etc but those are usually also the types of things an insole in your shoe isn’t going to fix either.

      • matt says:

        ok, thanks again. I have one last question. will wearing insoles with support be bad for my flat feet? I’ve started to do weighted ruck marches and i’ve read that is important to have good arch support in your boots for this activity. is this correct or will wearing supportive insoles not be a good idea in my boots?

      • The insole might make the feet feel better while marching but they won’t really be doing anything other than forcing your arches up. The misconception about arch height is that the assumption is they need to be up in order to function properly. Some people have very strong and functional feet but have flat arches. To give an example it’s the same as some people having big balled up biceps and others having long flatter biceps. Both people can have strong arms but they are built different and will never look the same. Feet are no different. In your case your feet are currently weak so an insole might help but they might not. The only way to know is to try it out and see. If you’re being diligent about the exercises and stretching then it won’t be long before it’s not an issue so it’s kind of up to you how you want to go about the marching.

  19. oshsnap says:

    I am flat-footed and running with Vibram 5-fingers.

  20. steve says:

    Hello, great site, glad I found it. I have rigid flat feet and I have been active my entire life (baseball/soccer/tennis). Although my feet do tend to get tired, it has never been a real issue. Recently I began running in hopes of running a 10K. The advise I was given when purchasing shoes left me fairly confused and I now own both a pair of “structured” running shoes and “free” shoes. Ran a few times with the “structured” shoes and my foot is more tired than it is when playing sports, haven’t tried the “free” style shoe yet as I am worried about running in that style with my flat feet. Any advise for those of us with rigid flat feet that never had an arches? Do the exercises you suggest (calf raises, carpet scrunches, towel pick ups) help people with rigid flat feet with no hopes of arches?

    • Hello and thanks for the comments/questions. I do think that doing strengthening exercises can help you out. To me those exercises are as important as any other you can think of. They hold as much weight in your routine as squats in my book. I think you are finding the structured shoes uncomfortable because you have flat feet and are used to flat shoes. There really isn’t a cleat on the market that has a built up arch and most tennis specific shoes don’t either. Even your Free’s will have more arch build up that you are used to. The problem with having someone check you and recommend shoes at the store is that the average sales associate is looking at what your ankles are doing when you walk but not usually when you run and they never look at your feet. I would say you should try for a shoe that will accommodate your flat foot better while allow it to strengthen and keep it strong. I love the Altra Instinct for this purpose and next month they are releasing the new look for this shoe and it’s really nice. It’s got a good flat surface inside but gives you the protection you’d look for from a running shoe. Still make sure you implement exercises for the feet though as that will help you in all your sports.

  21. Kel says:

    Hello, I have had flat feet most of my life and when i was playing football and on my feet a lot I just tried to fight through the pain, I have been running lately and my normal shin splits and feet cramping have slowed my progress (training for police officer). I am a big guy and I wear size 17 shoes so I am asking you for any advise, Than you

    • Hello. It sounds like you’re suffering from weak feet. This is extremely common in cleated athletes as well as the average daily shoe wearer. The feet have as many muscles in them as the hands and are very complex in their construction but we never work them. I’d recommend you start doing some barefoot walking, bare calf raises, and things of the like to start working the muscles in your feet. Being a bigger bodied person you want to start slow and slowly build up. If your bones are weak and atrophied then your size could create issues like stress fractures.

  22. matt says:

    Hello again, i was wondering how long it should take for me to start feeling a difference in my foot pain do to my weak arches. i’ve been doing the exercises you recommended daily (with a few days missed every now and again) for a little over a month and i have not felt any difference with the amount of foot pain i feel while in shoes. i also started to barefoot run. while i run barefoot i have zero pain but as soon as i step into a shoe my feet begin to hurt again.
    thanks

    • I would say you’re already feeling it. If you’re running barefoot with no pain then you’re feeling good. The issue is the shoe and the shape of its sole. There is (I’m assuming) a raised area through the arch and that will be the problem. These raised areas keep the foot from flexing the way it would like which causes irritation to the muscles. Seems like you might need different shoes.

      • matt says:

        i’ve been thinking about trying a full minimalist shoe but i’ve heard some places say that they are bad for people with flat feet. is this true? i’ve been wearing the reebok yourflex and am still getting some foot pain with that shoe.

      • I disagree completely with the idea that people with flat feet should avoid minimal shoes. That is based on an outdated belief that flat feet need support. I have clients with very flat feet that wear only minimal shoes. They can do so because their feet are strong. Im willing to bet the discomfort you’re feeling from your shoes is from the huge transition drop they have through the midfoot.

  23. matt says:

    ok, thanks for your help and advice.

  24. scott says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have two things working “against” me. Feet as flat as a hardwood floor and a condition called foot drop on the right foot. Long story short, I feel freest running barefoot but comes with a twist. Left foot is bare. Right foot has to have two socks (typically smartwool socks- those hold the best) due to the brace I have to wear for the foot drop. I have attempted no brace in the past but that’s a non starter; too painful and too prone to injury. I don’t mind running one foot bare, other foot sock, but I was wondering if there were any socks that were made to run in and if you or anyone else has had any experience with that?

    • I do know there are some socks that have kevlar either in them or covering them that are made for running. I cannot think of the name though but they were reviewed at http://www.birthdayshoes.com. As far as other types of footwear you might like a bootie type shoe made by a company called Zem. One of the most minimal/sock-like shoes on the market. I’ve had a lot of experience with them and they are very close to having nothing on your feet.

  25. Riz1 says:

    Hi I can’t seem to find your links for the flatfeet workouts you mentioned?

  26. Jeanette says:

    HI, what about this. I have 2 mortons neuroma and ruptured bursa in one foot, all caused by flat feet and it is so excruciating I can’t walk without pain, let alone exercise and I have always been active, including doing stairs for exercise. Orthotics, physio and acupuncture don’t work and I have worn barefoot a lot over the years, in fact wearing flat shoes or barefeet aggravate it so where to now?

    • Jeannette that is a tough one and I’m afraid I might not have a lot of help to offer. The reason for that is your problems are structural at this point. I also find it curious that you said flat feet have led to something like a neuroma. My experience and knowledge on the subject has never connected those two issues but with that said I’ll try and help all I can. The neuromas can be alleviated at times by wearing a shoe that is more foot friendly and has a foot shape. This might not be of much help to you since you have pains just walking and you might need to get the bursa healed before you’ll be able to tell what hurts more or less in terms of shoe fit. If you find your feet feet better in things like sandals or crocs then something like Altra might work for you. Altra shoes have a great foot shaped toe box and they have options that offer good cushioning to help with the pains caused by the ruptured bursa and hopefully help until it heals or you can get it fixed. It seems like you’ve already tried a lot with no good results but I’ve found for issues like your an orthotic isn’t going to do much. Physio and accupuncture are both great for a lot of issues but again I think that they might not be the best route for your problems. I would highly recommend you find a good foot/ankle doctor that can get you set on a good and proper treatment path. The trick is to try and eliminate what you can so that you can begin to treat everything else.

  27. Daniel says:

    Thanks for your post, I have very flat feet that have caused me a lot of back and knee pain and have hindered me getting into the military and other sports. You say exercises – please list what exercises I can do to build up my arch?

    • Daniel,

      I’ve listed lots of exercises in the comments thread of this post and also have articles on here about Top of Foot Pain that list foot strengthening exercises. A few of my favorites are barefoot calf raises, barefoot jump ropes, and one where I try to stand barefooted and have nothing but my toes and heels touching the floor. All of these types of movements will help strengthen your feet. They may not lift your arch high off the ground but they will strengthen it and that is what’s important.

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